Back-to-Back Races in Basque Country
Since 1922 Spain has played host to the Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika – a demanding one day race that quickly follows on the heels of the Tour de France. Always held on July 25, many riders opting to race in Spain have just finished the Tour several days prior. In Spanish cycling, Villafranca has become quite famous for drawing Tour names to the Basque Country.
“Villafranca is a challenging race all the way out and especially demanding at the end,” says Sport Director Neil Stephens. “It’s run on a circuit, but on the last lap there’s an extra part that makes it harder. You could say it’s a tough man sort of race. I suspect the winner will come from an individual breakaway or a small group. Generally, a punchy kind of climber will win.”
For several of the ORICA-GreenEDGE riders, the difficulty of Villafranca will provide a good hit out after a long block of training. Although Villafranca is a small race in the big picture of the world of cycling, ORICA-GreenEDGE will be approaching it with specific objectives.
“It’s a litmus paper for a lot of guys who have spent a month training,” adds Stephens. “These guys are looking forward to getting there to see how they go. They’ve trained hard, all of them. Villafranca will be a good race for the guys to kick start the engine before they go to Poland or the races in America. A lot of effort has gone into their training. A lot of thanks goes to Marc Quod and the back-up squad for helping them through a long training period.”
While Villafranca may be considered a lesser known race on the calendar, there’s another race in Spain just two days later that is most definitely not – the Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian. Targeting a good result at San Sebastian is an understatement for the ORICA-GreenEDGE squad.
“With the Olympics last year, San Sebastian was secondary to the Olympics in terms of our focus,” says Stephens. “That’s not the case this year – it is a major goal for the team. We have guys coming off the Tour with some very good form. We’ll be able to pack a fair ol’ punch in the race, I reckon.”
“Five of our riders for San Sebastian raced the Tour,” adds Stephens. “They will not race Villafranca as their main thing is to recover for San Sebastian. A few of them have a criterium or two this week, but otherwise they are very focused on their recovery and preparation. Only the guys who did not race the Tour will race Villafranca and San Sebastian.”
As Stephens speaks about each of the Tour riders racing San Sebastian, his excitement is palpable.
“As with every other race on the calendar, the leader of the team is the team,” says Stephens. “You start with a standout rider. Who stands out? Simon Gerrans was second last year – one rider was off the front and he won the sprint from a small group. Obviously, this is a course that suits him. Further down our line-up is Daryl Impey – he’s climbing better than ever at the momentm and he hasn’t lost any speed while refining his climbing legs. The way Michael Albasini went when he ran second the other day shows his form. He’s coming off the Tour tired, but he’s ready to go again. Cam [Cameron Meyer] was a crucial rider at San Sebastian last year. He’s the reason Gerro won that bunch sprint. Bloody Clarkey [Simon Clarke] is on the form of his life at the moment, and he bounced out of his first Tour quite well.”
“When you look at those five, I think we have five solid chances for a good result,” continues Stephens. “You can’t just point to one rider because they’re all on good form. I tend to think we’ve got the game. However the final pans out, we have options.”
ORICA-GreenEDGE for Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika:
ORICA-GreenEDGE for Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian: